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Women's History Month: Nurse Leaders in Maryland Legislature

As the American Nurses Association states, "Every day, dedicated nurses strive to provide the best care for patients. But without comprehensive support from organizations, colleagues, and legislature – nurses will be unable to achieve the best patient outcomes."

Nurses who serve as elected officials work to shape policy that can improve the lives and patient outcomes of their constituents.

In Maryland, at least three nurses have served as elected officials in our state legislature. They include:

Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, RN, MAS, BSN

Shirley Nathan-Pulliam represented District 44, Baltimore City and Baltimore County, in the Maryland Senate from 2015 until her retirement in 2019. Prior to that, she was a Member of the House of Delegates representing District 10, Baltimore County, from 1995 to 2015. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Maryland, Baltimore and her Master's degree in Administrative Science from John Hopkins University. She taught as a faculty associate in nursing for John Hopkins in addition to owning her own business.

She was featured by the Future of Nursing Campaign for Action in their June issue of Charting Nursing's Future, "Shirley Nathan-Pulliam: A Nurse Turned Maryland Legislator".

Watch her interview below to hear the moving story of the moment she decided to run for office:

Nathan-Pulliam talked about her experience as a nurse directly setting her on a path to public service. She said:

As a nurse, you see the conditions of patients coming into your facility. You see the pain. You see those with insurance and those without insurance, those struggling. And I always said, “There ought to be a law against this.”

Before her retirement in 2019, she accomplished a great deal during her career as a legislator. In 1998, she was proud of securing $2.6 million for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment for low-income women. She also secured $500,000 towards oral cancer diagnosis and treatment for unhoused men and the underserved. In 2004, her bill, House Bill 86, created the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities within the Maryland Department of Health.

She has also been very active in her community and organizations. She was a founder of the Community College of Baltimore County Nursing Alumni Association and a co-founder of the Black Mental Health Alliance. She started the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and served on the board of Planned Parenthood of Maryland as well as the board of House of Ruth in DC, a shelter for women and children.

Adelaide (Addie) Eckardt, RN, MS, BSN

Adelaide Eckardt has served as a State Senator since 2015 for District 37 in Maryland, representing Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties on the Eastern Shore. From 1995 - 2014, she was a Member of House of Delegates representing District 37B, also Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties. She earned her Bachelor and Master of Science in Nursing degrees from the University of Maryland School of Nursing and served as a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center. She simultaneously taught as an adjunct faculty member at Salisbury University as well as her alma mater, University of Maryland School of Nursing.

She is a past president of the Maryland Nurses Association and Chesapeake Health Planning System, Inc. She has received several awards including the Outstanding Rural Health Legislator Award from the Maryland Rural Health Association and the Legislative Champion Award from the Women Legislators of Maryland, both in 2018.

Geraldine Valentino-Smith, JD, BS in Nursing

Geraldine Valetino-Smith has served as a Member of the House of Delegates representing District 23A, Prince George’s County, since 2011. She previously served as a member of the Bowie City Council from 2017-2010. Prior to her career as an elected official, she earned her B.S. in Nursing from Catholic University and worked as a clinical nurse at the National Institutes of Health in pediatrics. She went on to earn a J.D. from Catholic University's Columbus School of Law and worked in the health law and legislative advocacy fields in Baltimore and Annapolis.

She has been appointed to the Judiciary Committee and is also a member of the Women Legislators of Maryland. She is the co-chair of the Work Group to Study Shelter and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Minors. She has received several awards and recognition, including the Maryland Nurses Association's Legislator of the Year in 2012 and Service Award in 2015.

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